Britain is heading towards a historic pre-Christmas general election, which could decide whether the UK leaves the European Union in 2020 or if Brexit can be stopped.

MPs voted by 438 to 20 to approve the UK’s first December ballot in almost a century, after Labour dramatically abandoned its resistance to the election sought by Boris Johnson and joined the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party in backing an early vote.

Once the decision passes the House of Lords and receives royal assent, parliament will be dissolved on 6 November for a five-week campaign before the nation goes to the polls on 12 December in one of the most significant elections of modern times.

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Despite recent polls showing a double-digit lead for Tories, Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson said the national vote will be “our best chance to elect a government to stop Brexit”. And leading pollster Sir John Curtice said that opposition parties did not have to win the election to be in a position to block Brexit, but simply take enough seats to deny the Tories a majority.

Mr Johnson believes the Tory surge since his election as leader in July has put him on the verge of securing the dominance of the Commons that he wants in order to deliver his Brexit deal early in 2020 and embark on the lengthy and controversial process of negotiating a new relationship with the remaining 27 EU states.

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UK news in pictures

1/50 29 October 2019

A 1264 locomotive travels through an autumn scene along the North York Moors National Park

2/50 28 October 2019

Paul Hayes of Lower Lydbrook ferries children to dry land after the River Wye burst its banks flooding the Gloucestershire village
Cosplayers during the third day of London’s Comic Con

4/50 26 October 2019

England fans celebrate after their side beat New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup semi-final match in Japan. Eddie Jones’s side won 19-7

5/50 25 October 2019

Meerkats at Blair Drummond Safari Park, Stirling, investigate a carved pumpkin as the park celebrates national pumpkin day on Saturday October 26.

6/50 24 October 2019

A giant inflatable monster, created by artists Filthy Luker and Pedro Estrellas, is unveiled in Manchester ahead of the city’s annual halloween celebrations

7/50 23 October 2019

Thirty-nine bodies have been found in a lorry container in Essex, police have said.

The discovery of 38 adults and one teenager was made at an industrial estate in Thurrock.

Police said they believed the lorry had come from Bulgaria and entered the UK at Holyhead, in Wales, on Saturday.

Essex Police said it had launched a murder investigation after its officers were called to Waterglade Industrial Park, in Grays, in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

A 25-year-old-man from Northern Ireland has been arrested on suspicion of murder

8/50 22 October 2019

Ships out at sea before the sun rises off the coast of Whitley Bay, Northumberland

9/50 21 October 2019

Hundreds of students take part in the traditional Raisin Monday foam fight on St Salvator’s Lower College Lawn at the University of St Andrews in Fife. The messy display is the culmination of a weekend of festivities where first years say thank you to their more senior student “parents” for mentoring them

10/50 20 October 2019

Wales players celebrate after beating France in their Rugby World Cup quarter-final in Japan. Warren Gatland’s side had to battle after France’s fast start but capitalised on their rivals’ ill discipline to squeeze into the semi-finals, 20-19

11/50 19 October 2019

People gather in London to join the Final Say march for a people’s vote

12/50 18 October 2019

Protesters on Whitehall in London during an Extinction Rebellion climate change protest

13/50 17 October 2019

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson shake hands during a news conference after agreeing on a Brexit deal, in Brussels

14/50 16 October 2019

A man walks his dog through the fallen leaves in Clarkes Gardens, Allerton in Liverpool

15/50 15 October 2019

Police officers carry away an activist as Extinction Rebellion protesters block a road with a caravan in central London

16/50 14 October 2019

Queen Elizabeth II sits with Prince Charles on the Sovereign’s throne ahead of delivering the Queen’s Speech at the State Opening of Parliament

17/50 13 October 2019

Great Britain’s Joe Fraser competes on Parallel Bars during the World Gymnastics Championships in Stuttgart, Germany. He claimed GB’s second gold with his victory. The 20-year-old from Birmingham nailed his routine to score 15.0 then watched as a series of rivals failed to live up to his total

18/50 12 October 2019

St Helens players celebrate with the trophy after they won the Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford in Manchester. They beat Salford Red Devils 23-6

19/50 11 October 2019

Richard Ratcliffe, husband of British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe jailed in Tehran since 2016, holds his daughter Gabriella during a news conference in London. Their five-year-old daughter has arrived back in Britain, after making the “bittersweet” decision to bring her home

20/50 10 October 2019

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Thornton Manor. Their meeting focused on further Brexit proposals

21/50 9 October 2019

Wales survived an almighty scare against Fiji to secure quarter-final spot at the rugby world cup. Warren Gatland’s side recovered from a 10-0 deficit thanks to a hat-trick from Josh Adams

22/50 8 October 2019

Protesters dubbed the Red Rebels at Millbank at the junction with Great College Street, during an Extinction Rebellion protest in Westminster

23/50 7 October 2019

Final preparations are made in front of a reproduction of Michelangelo’s ‘The Last Judgement’, ahead of the opening of for the ‘Michelangelo: A Different View’ exhibition at Hull Minister

24/50 6 October 2019

A car drives through a flooded street in Whitley Bay in Northumberland

25/50 5 October 2019

Thousands took to the streets of Edinburgh today to march in support of a second Scottish independence referendum

26/50 4 October 2019

A 12ft sculpture of a gorilla, entitled ‘Gorilla Apocalypse’, created by Luke Kite entirely from scrap car bumpers and panels discarded in the last decade is on display at the British Ironwork Centre in Oswestry, Shropshire

27/50 3 October 2019

Police stands in front of the Treasury building during an Extinction Rebellion protest in London

28/50 2 October 2019

Ex-Thomas Cook employees demonstrate in London after delivering a petition calling for a full inquiry into Thomas Cook’s collapse and for the company’s directors to pay back their bonuses

29/50 1 October 2019

A road in Alum Rock, Birmingham is flooded after persistent heavy rain

30/50 30 September 2019

Two tourists pose for pictures in front of Union and EU flags outside the Houses of Parliament in London

31/50 29 September 2019

A sheep on London Bridge as Freemen of the City of London took up their historic entitlement to drive sheep over the bridge, which was once London’s only river crossing

32/50 28 September 2019

An Aldabra giant tortoise is fed watermelon as a treat at the Malvern Autumn Show, at the Three Counties Showground near Malvern in Worcestershire

33/50 27 September 2019

Gallery assistants pose with an artwork entitled ‘Devolved Parliament’ by British artist Banksy, during a press view in London ahead of Sotheby’s contemporary art sale, as part of the Frieze Art Fair

34/50 26 September 2019

England’s Jonathan Joseph is tackled by United State’s Marcel Brache during their group match at the Rugby World Cup in Japan. England scored seven tries on their way to winning 45-7

35/50 25 September 2019

Tributes for former Rangers player Fernando Ricksen at Ibrox Stadium. Today, the funeral procession will pass Ibrox Stadium before making the journey to Wellington Church

36/50 24 September 2019

A person dressed as a caricature of Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a prison uniform stands outside the Supreme Court after it ruled that his decision to suspend Parliament was illegal

37/50 23 September 2019

Thomas Cook aircraft are parked up at Manchester Airport on the day they collapsed after rescue talks failed. A total of 22,000 jobs – including 9,000 in UK – are to be lost following administration. More than 150,000 British holidaymakers need to be brought home, with the government and CAA hiring dozens of charter planes to fly customers home free of charge

38/50 22 September 2019

Fire performer Penella Bee performs before people take part in the North East Skinny Dip at Druridge Bay in Nothumberland, an annual event that marks the Autumn Equinox and raises money for MIND – the Mental Health Charity

39/50 21 September 2019

Protesters gather for a march and rally organised by “The People’s Vote” in Brighton, to call for politicians to give the public a final say referendum on Brexit

40/50 20 September 2019

Protesters in London joined millions across world to demand urgent action to save planet in the largest environmental protest in history

41/50 19 September 2019

Rapper Dave poses with the Mercury Prize: Albums of the Year Award at Apollo

42/50 18 September 2019

A surfer in action during sunrise at Tynemouth on the north east coast

43/50 17 September 2019

Protesters dressed as the Incredible Hulk and Robocop outside the Supreme Court in London where judges are due to consider legal challenges to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament. The Supreme Court will hear appeals over three days from two separate challenges to the prorogation of Parliament brought in England and Scotland

44/50 16 September 2019

Farmer Tom Hoggard harvests pumpkins at Howe Bridge Farm in Yorkshire, ahead of Halloween

45/50 15 September 2019

Team Europe celebrate winning the Solheim Cup at Gleneagles in Auchterarder, Scotland. Europe won the last three singles matches to claim victory 14½-13½
Sunset at St Mary’s Lighthouse in Whitley Bay

47/50 13 September 2019

Activists from PETA stage a demonstration outside a venue during London Fashion Week in London, Britain

48/50 12 September 2019

Australia’s Marnus Labuschagne attempts to stop a boundary in the fifth Test

49/50 11 September 2019

Storm clouds gather over the pier just off the North East coast at South Shields

50/50 10 September 2019

The peloton rides past the Angel of the North during stage four of the Tour of Britain from Gateshead to Kendal

1/50 29 October 2019

A 1264 locomotive travels through an autumn scene along the North York Moors National Park

2/50 28 October 2019

Paul Hayes of Lower Lydbrook ferries children to dry land after the River Wye burst its banks flooding the Gloucestershire village
Cosplayers during the third day of London’s Comic Con

4/50 26 October 2019

England fans celebrate after their side beat New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup semi-final match in Japan. Eddie Jones’s side won 19-7

5/50 25 October 2019

Meerkats at Blair Drummond Safari Park, Stirling, investigate a carved pumpkin as the park celebrates national pumpkin day on Saturday October 26.

6/50 24 October 2019

A giant inflatable monster, created by artists Filthy Luker and Pedro Estrellas, is unveiled in Manchester ahead of the city’s annual halloween celebrations

7/50 23 October 2019

Thirty-nine bodies have been found in a lorry container in Essex, police have said.

The discovery of 38 adults and one teenager was made at an industrial estate in Thurrock.

Police said they believed the lorry had come from Bulgaria and entered the UK at Holyhead, in Wales, on Saturday.

Essex Police said it had launched a murder investigation after its officers were called to Waterglade Industrial Park, in Grays, in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

A 25-year-old-man from Northern Ireland has been arrested on suspicion of murder

8/50 22 October 2019

Ships out at sea before the sun rises off the coast of Whitley Bay, Northumberland

9/50 21 October 2019

Hundreds of students take part in the traditional Raisin Monday foam fight on St Salvator’s Lower College Lawn at the University of St Andrews in Fife. The messy display is the culmination of a weekend of festivities where first years say thank you to their more senior student “parents” for mentoring them

10/50 20 October 2019

Wales players celebrate after beating France in their Rugby World Cup quarter-final in Japan. Warren Gatland’s side had to battle after France’s fast start but capitalised on their rivals’ ill discipline to squeeze into the semi-finals, 20-19

11/50 19 October 2019

People gather in London to join the Final Say march for a people’s vote

12/50 18 October 2019

Protesters on Whitehall in London during an Extinction Rebellion climate change protest

13/50 17 October 2019

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson shake hands during a news conference after agreeing on a Brexit deal, in Brussels

14/50 16 October 2019

A man walks his dog through the fallen leaves in Clarkes Gardens, Allerton in Liverpool

15/50 15 October 2019

Police officers carry away an activist as Extinction Rebellion protesters block a road with a caravan in central London

16/50 14 October 2019

Queen Elizabeth II sits with Prince Charles on the Sovereign’s throne ahead of delivering the Queen’s Speech at the State Opening of Parliament

17/50 13 October 2019

Great Britain’s Joe Fraser competes on Parallel Bars during the World Gymnastics Championships in Stuttgart, Germany. He claimed GB’s second gold with his victory. The 20-year-old from Birmingham nailed his routine to score 15.0 then watched as a series of rivals failed to live up to his total

18/50 12 October 2019

St Helens players celebrate with the trophy after they won the Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford in Manchester. They beat Salford Red Devils 23-6

19/50 11 October 2019

Richard Ratcliffe, husband of British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe jailed in Tehran since 2016, holds his daughter Gabriella during a news conference in London. Their five-year-old daughter has arrived back in Britain, after making the “bittersweet” decision to bring her home

20/50 10 October 2019

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Thornton Manor. Their meeting focused on further Brexit proposals

21/50 9 October 2019

Wales survived an almighty scare against Fiji to secure quarter-final spot at the rugby world cup. Warren Gatland’s side recovered from a 10-0 deficit thanks to a hat-trick from Josh Adams

22/50 8 October 2019

Protesters dubbed the Red Rebels at Millbank at the junction with Great College Street, during an Extinction Rebellion protest in Westminster

23/50 7 October 2019

Final preparations are made in front of a reproduction of Michelangelo’s ‘The Last Judgement’, ahead of the opening of for the ‘Michelangelo: A Different View’ exhibition at Hull Minister

24/50 6 October 2019

A car drives through a flooded street in Whitley Bay in Northumberland

25/50 5 October 2019

Thousands took to the streets of Edinburgh today to march in support of a second Scottish independence referendum

26/50 4 October 2019

A 12ft sculpture of a gorilla, entitled ‘Gorilla Apocalypse’, created by Luke Kite entirely from scrap car bumpers and panels discarded in the last decade is on display at the British Ironwork Centre in Oswestry, Shropshire

27/50 3 October 2019

Police stands in front of the Treasury building during an Extinction Rebellion protest in London

28/50 2 October 2019

Ex-Thomas Cook employees demonstrate in London after delivering a petition calling for a full inquiry into Thomas Cook’s collapse and for the company’s directors to pay back their bonuses

29/50 1 October 2019

A road in Alum Rock, Birmingham is flooded after persistent heavy rain

30/50 30 September 2019

Two tourists pose for pictures in front of Union and EU flags outside the Houses of Parliament in London

31/50 29 September 2019

A sheep on London Bridge as Freemen of the City of London took up their historic entitlement to drive sheep over the bridge, which was once London’s only river crossing

32/50 28 September 2019

An Aldabra giant tortoise is fed watermelon as a treat at the Malvern Autumn Show, at the Three Counties Showground near Malvern in Worcestershire

33/50 27 September 2019

Gallery assistants pose with an artwork entitled ‘Devolved Parliament’ by British artist Banksy, during a press view in London ahead of Sotheby’s contemporary art sale, as part of the Frieze Art Fair

34/50 26 September 2019

England’s Jonathan Joseph is tackled by United State’s Marcel Brache during their group match at the Rugby World Cup in Japan. England scored seven tries on their way to winning 45-7

35/50 25 September 2019

Tributes for former Rangers player Fernando Ricksen at Ibrox Stadium. Today, the funeral procession will pass Ibrox Stadium before making the journey to Wellington Church

36/50 24 September 2019

A person dressed as a caricature of Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a prison uniform stands outside the Supreme Court after it ruled that his decision to suspend Parliament was illegal

37/50 23 September 2019

Thomas Cook aircraft are parked up at Manchester Airport on the day they collapsed after rescue talks failed. A total of 22,000 jobs – including 9,000 in UK – are to be lost following administration. More than 150,000 British holidaymakers need to be brought home, with the government and CAA hiring dozens of charter planes to fly customers home free of charge

38/50 22 September 2019

Fire performer Penella Bee performs before people take part in the North East Skinny Dip at Druridge Bay in Nothumberland, an annual event that marks the Autumn Equinox and raises money for MIND – the Mental Health Charity

39/50 21 September 2019

Protesters gather for a march and rally organised by “The People’s Vote” in Brighton, to call for politicians to give the public a final say referendum on Brexit

40/50 20 September 2019

Protesters in London joined millions across world to demand urgent action to save planet in the largest environmental protest in history

41/50 19 September 2019

Rapper Dave poses with the Mercury Prize: Albums of the Year Award at Apollo

42/50 18 September 2019

A surfer in action during sunrise at Tynemouth on the north east coast

43/50 17 September 2019

Protesters dressed as the Incredible Hulk and Robocop outside the Supreme Court in London where judges are due to consider legal challenges to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament. The Supreme Court will hear appeals over three days from two separate challenges to the prorogation of Parliament brought in England and Scotland

44/50 16 September 2019

Farmer Tom Hoggard harvests pumpkins at Howe Bridge Farm in Yorkshire, ahead of Halloween

45/50 15 September 2019

Team Europe celebrate winning the Solheim Cup at Gleneagles in Auchterarder, Scotland. Europe won the last three singles matches to claim victory 14½-13½
Sunset at St Mary’s Lighthouse in Whitley Bay

47/50 13 September 2019

Activists from PETA stage a demonstration outside a venue during London Fashion Week in London, Britain

48/50 12 September 2019

Australia’s Marnus Labuschagne attempts to stop a boundary in the fifth Test

49/50 11 September 2019

Storm clouds gather over the pier just off the North East coast at South Shields

50/50 10 September 2019

The peloton rides past the Angel of the North during stage four of the Tour of Britain from Gateshead to Kendal

But he is vulnerable to an assault from Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, which hopes to capitalise on Leave-backing voters’ fury at the PM’s failure to deliver his “do or die” pledge to take the UK out of the EU by Thursday this week, with or without a deal.

Supporters of a second referendum urged voters to deny him a majority in order to keep alive the prospect of a public vote on the final Brexit outcome.

But there was little sign of the emergence of a “Remain alliance”, which could see parties opposing Brexit stand candidates aside to engineer opportunities to defeat Tories.

The Liberal Democrats will fight the election on a promise to overturn the 2016 victory for Leave by revoking the UK’s Article 50 notice to quit the EU, while Labour will promise to negotiate its own Brexit deal before putting it to a public vote.

And another hung parliament could create the conditions for MPs to insist on a confirmatory referendum on Mr Johnson’s deal. This has proved impossible with the current parliamentary arithmetic.

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Ms Swinson said: “This general election will decide the future of our country for generations. It is our best chance to elect a government to stop Brexit.

“The Liberal Democrats are the strongest party of Remain and will be standing on a manifesto to stop Brexit by revoking Article 50.

“This country deserves better than Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn, and I am excited to take our positive, pro-European, liberal vision to the country as the Liberal Democrat candidate for prime minister.”

Jo Swinson during an election debate this week (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor)

But Mr Corbyn made clear he will put reversing austerity – and not Brexit – at the heart of Labour’s campaign.

The election was “a once-in-a-generation chance to transform our country”, said the Labour leader.

“The choice at this election could not be clearer,” he said. “A Labour government will be on your side, while Boris Johnson’s Conservatives – who think they’re born to rule – will only look after the privileged few.

“We will now launch the most ambitious and radical campaign for real change that our country has ever seen. This is our chance to build a country for the many not the few and fit for the next generation.”

Tory aides said Mr Johnson aims to use a majority in the Commons to ratify his Brexit deal early in the new year, allowing the UK to leave the EU at 11pm on 31 January under the terms of the latest extension offered by Brussels earlier this week. 

Speaking to reporters after addressing Tory MPs in Westminster, Mr Johnson said: “I think it’s time for the country to come together, get Brexit done and go forward.”

But asked if he believes he can secure a majority, he said: “It’ll be a tough election and we are going to do the best we can.”

Jeremy Corbyn announces his party’s decision to back an election today (BBC)

Former cabinet minister John Whittingdale said the prime minister told the meeting his decision to go for an election “wasn’t because we were ahead in the polls or because of the horror of Corbyn but because we had no alternative: that parliament is deadlocked”.

But Sir John Curtice, of the University of Strathclyde, said that the result would probably deliver a record number of MPs from outside the two major parties, making the balance of power in the new parliament difficult to call.

With both the SNP and Lib Dems expected to improve significantly on their current tally of seats, there could be “more than 100 MPs that do not belong to either of the other two parties”, said Sir John.

And he added: “Bear in mind, this is not an election that Labour have to win to stop Brexit, but it is an election that they and the other opposition parties simply need to deny the Conservatives a majority.”

MPs voiced concern that staging the election in the potentially cold, wet and dark conditions of December for the first time since 1923 could depress turnout, particularly among students, the elderly and people with a disability. But MPs voted down a Labour bid to bring polling day forward three days to 9 December.  

Pro-referendum Labour MP Peter Kyle told The Independent the election would be “a referendum in all but name” but said it was “fantasy” to believe it would resolve Brexit.

“I would say right now, at the outset, that this election is more likely to deliver a referendum, once another parliament with no overall control and with a more divisive and divided intake results,” said Mr Kyle, who voted against an election as it was “second best” to a Final Say vote on Brexit.

“Ultimately, it is the British public that will decide this, and I suspect they would rather we had got together to find a way through the Brexit challenge than asking them to do it for us.”

Plaid Cymru’s leader in Westminster, Liz Saville-Roberts, said she would like pro-Remain parties to “find a way of realising their voice” during the election, as the Welsh nationalists did when they reached a electoral agreement with the Lib Dems and Greens in the recent Brecon by-election.

“If it doesn’t come about that politicians can put aside party-political interests, then there is something more than the structure of Westminster at fault in the politics of the UK,” she told Sky News.

Richard Tice, chair of the Brexit Party, said it was still ready to join the Tories in a “Leave alliance”, which he predicted could deliver a landslide victory, but made clear the price of a pact would be a no-deal Brexit.

Steve Baker, chair of the European Research Group of Eurosceptic Tories, said a deal “won’t happen” on this basis, telling the New Statesman: “Boris will have to win without any arrangement.”

Gavin Barwell, the former chief of staff to Theresa May, said: “For two and a half years politicians have gambled that if they refuse to compromise on Brexit they might get the outcome they want. 

“Now they’re all gambling on an election giving them the outcome they want. We’ll find out in a few weeks which ones have miscalculated.”